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Transcript: Interview with Soprano Ying Fang

Return to Night and Dreams, with the Celebrity Series

Alan McLellan [00:00:00] Ying Fang. It is such a pleasure to have you here in Boston and to have your recital on WCRB In Concert. And we're looking forward to hearing it very much. Is it a program that you have done often or many times before?

Ying Fang [00:00:15] Yes. And also, this program consists of some of my favorite arias and songs, so it's very special to me, yeah.

Alan McLellan [00:00:24] And it includes music from the opera, as you say, as well as songs. Do you have a preference which you like better, singing opera or singing recital material?

Ying Fang [00:00:37] Both, actually. I always think that doing song recitals gives you more than just doing opera performances because you're your own director. You're your own conductor. And it's more personal, I think.

Alan McLellan [00:00:57] Yes. So all those gestures that a director might tell you to do on the stage, you have to work out for yourself.

Ying Fang [00:01:03] Yes, yeah.

Alan McLellan [00:01:04] And you have to invest the meaning in everything that you do, even when the language is unfamiliar to the audience.

Ying Fang [00:01:13] Right.

Alan McLellan [00:01:14] I notice you have Rachmaninoff on the program, and has that been a challenge for you to to learn or did you know Russian before?

Ying Fang [00:01:21] No, actually, I learned it from scratch. But it's just such a gorgeous piece of music, and the way he sets the music to the text is just incredible. And there, I think they are, like, mini scenes to me, each song.

Alan McLellan [00:01:45] I want to ask you about your start. You begin your education in China and did your undergrad in Shanghai, as you were saying. When did you come to the United States?

Ying Fang [00:01:57] I came here for masters, so that was 2010. I went to Juilliard.

Alan McLellan [00:02:05] Wow. And then you got into the Lindemann program at the Met. And when did that take place?

Ying Fang [00:02:11] I think that was three years later, so that's 2013. That's also the year I made my Met debut.

Alan McLellan [00:02:19] That's wonderful. Can you describe the Lindemann program because you've completed it now, right?

Ying Fang [00:02:27] Yeah. So basically, you are just having all the resources at the Met, meaning the best coaches in the world, diction coaches and you get to work with some of the best musicians of our time, singers, conductors, you know, so it's really incredible for me at that young age to be able to immerse myself in that kind of environment to learn and absorb and also to, you know, it's nice to have "young artist" as a protection because you don't have to be perfect yet.

Alan McLellan [00:03:06] Are you, in the years since you've finished the Lindemann program, are you feeling more of that pressure now to be perfect?

Ying Fang [00:03:13] I try not to think about that. Yeah, but just do my best. [Laughs]

Alan McLellan [00:03:18] That's right. That's for the best. Definitely. Your childhood was in what province in China?

Ying Fang [00:03:27] Zhejiang Province.

Alan McLellan [00:03:28] Zhejiang. Yeah. And it's on the east coast.

Ying Fang [00:03:31] Yeah, southeast part of China.

Alan McLellan [00:03:33] And you come from a family that doesn't have any other musicians besides you?

Ying Fang [00:03:38] No! I'm the only one. I'm the weird one. But my dad loves music, and I always remember him playing some music in our house, so that must have had some influence on me.

Alan McLellan [00:03:55] Was it Chinese music or Western music or a combination?

Ying Fang [00:04:00] Any kind. He just loves music in general.

Alan McLellan [00:04:03] Oh, that's wonderful. And then you went on to study voice. At what point in your life did you realize that you were going to be a singer?

Ying Fang [00:04:13] I loved singing since I was a kid. I was just very quick at picking up tunes that I heard from TV and radios. So that's why my parents, they noticed that and they were like, Oh, this little girl, she maybe has something, you know? So they brought me to a voice teacher at, I think, during middle school, maybe. And then I applied to one of the most prestigious music high schools in China. It's actually the music high school affiliated to Shanghai Conservatory. And I didn't have much, you know, expectation when I applied, but luckily I got in. So I think that's when I realized it, you know, became serious about pursuing this career.

Alan McLellan [00:05:06] And this year you are doing debuts in, I think I was counting, Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles, all three.

Ying Fang [00:05:16] That's right.

Alan McLellan [00:05:16] Can you tell me about those operas? Have you already done one of them?

Ying Fang [00:05:22] Yes, I just made my Chicago Lyric debut singing Zerlina in "Don Giovanni." And for Houston, I'll be singing Pamina in "Die Zauberflöte." And in L.A., I'll be singing Susanna in "Le nozze di Figaro."

Alan McLellan [00:05:40] Those are all big challenges, I think. I'm not a soprano, but I think probably those Mozart arias in, Pamina's arias in "Magic Flute" are amazing.

Ying Fang [00:05:54] Yeah, it's really beautiful. And Susanna also, I mean, it's considered one of the longest roles for sopranos ever. So it's quite a challenge. But also, I love portraying her because she's such a witty and smart and amazing character. So, yeah, it's good. It's a treat for me.

Alan McLellan [00:06:19] A strong woman at a time when--

Ying Fang [00:06:22] A strong woman, exactly. Yes. Yeah. To go through that on her wedding day, right?

Alan McLellan [00:06:26] Exactly that whole, that whole scene. It's quite something.

Ying Fang [00:06:30] Yeah.

Alan McLellan [00:06:31] Well, this recital is wonderful in that it includes Handel, Mozart and Schubert and then Rachmaninoff and Bizet as well. Could we just kind of go through it and I'll get you to give me a kind of a sense of, in the case of the operatic excerpts, where we are in the story, and how that comes together? So the Handel, "Endless pleasure," from "Semele." Can you describe that situation in "Semele?"

Ying Fang [00:07:06] So she's just enjoying the feeling of being loved and appreciated. And she also knows the power of love because she conquered the greatest god. So, yeah, she's just showing off.

Alan McLellan [00:07:25] And then from "Theodora," I think it's kind of pleading with the angels.

Ying Fang [00:07:33] Yeah, it's a very, I would say, a sincere moment. And she's being taken off by the guards, and she's just making her prayer to the angels. Yeah, it's a very sincere and beautiful moment.

Alan McLellan [00:07:49] I don't know "Un moto di gioia." Tell me, what is that, a motion of joy?

Ying Fang [00:07:58] Yeah, actually, this is one of the original arias Mozart wrote for Susanna, and later it was replaced, both of the arias were replaced. So in this set, "Un moto di gioia" is actually one of the original arias, but then "Deh vieni, non tardar" is actually the revised one.

Alan McLellan [00:08:23] So it's kind of a comparison of those two?

Ying Fang [00:08:26] Right. But those two are in different acts. So one is one of the originals, and the second one is one of the revised version he wrote later.

Alan McLellan [00:08:40] I see. The "Deh vieni, non tardar.".

Ying Fang [00:08:42] Exactly, yes.

Alan McLellan [00:08:43] And then "Viola," by Schubert.

Ying Fang [00:08:48] Yeah, I always say this piece is not done enough, partly because it's such a long piece. This whole piece is about 15 minutes long, but the story is really just about the flower "viola," which blooms too early in the spring that it dies even before the spring comes. But the way Schubert put it, the theme comes back, maybe four times? Yes, four times within this whole song, but each time it has a very different effect. And it's just heartbreaking and it's breathtaking. So it's really a very special song. It's about the little flower, but such detail, emotion and you know, it's incredible. Yeah.

Alan McLellan [00:09:46] And all the more poignant when you think that Schubert himself died so young, you know, and his life was so short.

Ying Fang [00:09:52] Exactly. Yeah.

Alan McLellan [00:09:54] All right. And then we have intermission and then "Night and dreams," by Schubert, "Nacht und Traüme."

Ying Fang [00:10:00] Yes, it's probably one of the most famous lieder ever. I think for me, it's really a challenge, I mean, for singers, because it really requires legato, and Schubert marked piano, pianississimo, or maybe. On the piece, that was the only thing he wrote. So it's a real test and challenge for singers.

Alan McLellan [00:10:31] All right. So Bizet is known for "Carmen," but for songs he might have been known more in his own time. Is that right?

Ying Fang [00:10:43] No, I wouldn't say that. But see, these two songs are just some of the jewels of songs that he wrote. The first one is called "Song of April," so it's a song about spring and how everything wakes up from winter. Everything blossoms and, you know, people fall in love. Talk about love. So it's very beautiful. And the second one, "La coccinelle," it's "the ladybug."

Alan McLellan [00:11:19] Oh!

Ying Fang [00:11:20] Yes, it's the ladybug. And it's a very beautiful and fun, childlike story about this little boy, I assume, that helped to pick that little ladybug off from the little girl's neck. But then I think he probably misunderstood and missed the chance to kiss that girl. So it's very cute. You know, and then this ladybug comes down and teaches him a lesson. So it's very interesting. Yeah.

Alan McLellan [00:11:54] Lovely. So the ladybug knew all about how to do it.

Ying Fang [00:11:56] Yeah, exactly. [Laughs]

Alan McLellan [00:11:57] She's telling him he missed his opportunity. And then we have Rachmaninoff. These "Six Songs," Opus 38, and you were saying how deeply they have touched you as you've gotten to know them.

Ying Fang [00:12:11] Yeah. I mean, by just listening to those songs, you will see, it's just incredible. And also, like you would hear this very famous tune, he used the same melody later for a piano piece. It's "The Daisies." It's such a beautiful piece. And for me, I think it's more like a sisterly love. The daisies, I think, for me, are like younger sisters.

Alan McLellan [00:12:46] And then, yeah, and then the "Pied Piper."

Ying Fang [00:12:48] Mmhmm!

Alan McLellan [00:12:49] And "Sleep," and "The Quest." Where do the texts come from?

Ying Fang [00:12:54] I think it's from the same poet, this whole "Six Songs," a symbol, symbolism poet. And it's all kind of mystical objects, but full of emotions. But Rachmaninoff set the music so geniusly, almost impressionism. And that had a very beautiful effect together with the poem.

Alan McLellan [00:13:26] And the accompaniments.

Ying Fang [00:13:28] Yeah.

Alan McLellan [00:13:28] Must be beautiful.

Ying Fang [00:13:30] Yeah, incredible. Transparent.

Alan McLellan [00:13:30] Well, that is going to be a beautiful program, and so I'm really looking forward to hearing it. Ying Fang, thank you so much for spending some time telling us about this program and about yourself.

Ying Fang [00:13:42] Thank you for having me. Thank you. Hope you enjoy the program.